“What’s the use of going outside?
It’s so depressing when people die in real life…”
Guitar Hero – Amanda Palmer
This review comes several weeks late, and for that, I apologize. It’s not often when I delay a review for a concert that easily ranks as one of the best I’ve seen in recent years, but this was a special circumstance. Waking up the next day, giddy from the show and from speaking with the divine Ms. Amanda Palmer, I received a text message I’d been dreading, which led to a phonecall confirming my grandfather’s passing from cancer that afternoon.
The strange thing of it was, I’d received a text message at the show, and in a foreshadowing of that moment, I’d reluctantly reached for my phone, certain that he was gone then. That text was from a friend and fellow fan, but I could not shake that sense of foreboding for the entire concert. It is because of this sense that my life was about to change forever, that sense of loss being so near after months of fear and sorrow and rage, that every poignant song of Amanda’s set hit just that much harder. Every moment felt richer, felt fuller and more engaging than it already was. As I had sworn to myself months earlier, listening to Melissa Etheridge speak on life and cancer between songs, I lived my life as fully as I could in his honour, and that included engaging utterly and completely with the spectacle that was the Toronto stop on Amanda Palmer’s most recent tour.
Opening for Amanda were Zoe Keating, who you may know from Rasputina, working her incredible magic with strings and her computer (when it behaved). The sombre feel of her instrumentals lent a funereal air to the proceedings, fitting in light of the fact that Steven, our master of ceremonies and gifted member of the Danger Ensemble, announced early on that Amanda Palmer was dead. From Ms. Keating, we moved into a rousing set courtesy of the Builders and Butchers, a fantastic band that reminds me of a cross-breed between Jenny Lewis’ solo material and The Spades, a bluesy rock band that opened for Matthew Good earlier this year. I highly recommend their sometimes sillier, sometimes serious music; they left me wanting to drink and jig it up through the Mod Club. If nothing else can be said for Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls, it is the fact I’ve yet to see a lacklustre opener for their shows.
And now, Amanda fucking Palmer, or afp as those fans in the know call her now… Amanda is rather internet-savvy, so it actually seems viable that my review of her last outing in Toronto reached her eyes (and was hopefully received in the loving spirit with which it was written). The key criticism I had of that show was the plethora of covers in the setlist, and lo and behold, there were very few covers on this night. The addition of the Danger Ensemble made for a night of spectacle and fun, and with Zoe, Lyndon and the Builders and Butchers bringing the strings and things to back the songs up proper, who could ask for more?
But let me elaborate on this a little. The setlist was strong, with Amanda arising from the dead to slam into a gorgeous rendition of Astronaut that immediately engaged the entire crowd, and moved into old favourite Ampersand with ease. Songs like Have To Drive and Strength Through Music were made stronger by their visual interpretations courtesy of the Danger Ensemble, with simple but powerful imagery accenting Amanda’s raw and sometimes unnerving lyrics. The crowd was also treated to one of Amanda’s strongest solo songs, a gem left off the Who Killed Amanda Palmer disc entitled Straight, which pretty much sealed this show into top 3 of the year status all by itself. And what other artist offers up the ability to ask questions via a box that will be answered candidly and with great humour? What other artist lip synchs to Rihanna’s Umbrella complete with choreographed routine and actual rain via water bottles?
You see, the elements of theatre, coupled with songs that cut to the honest and secret places of people’s hearts without shame, are what make Amanda Palmer one of the geniuses of the modern music scene. Amanda understands how to engage, how to affect and how to move her audience. She writes for her sanity’s sake, for her amusement, and for the sake of all of us locked in our bedrooms, choosing our soundtrack for our lives. She is genuine in her love and respect for other artists, and they too capture her audience with their passion. One feels privy to a secret artists’ party when attending a show helmed by Amanda. The line between audience and performer blurs to where there is no line, just a genuine love in the spirit of punk cabaret, a feeling made literal as Amanda enters the audience during encores to strum a uke without microphone and sing Radiohead’s Creep atop a bar.
Even if Amanda somehow doesn’t quite register for you on CD, see a show. Take a friend. Like so many of my friends before you, you will be far more engaged at a performance than listening to any MP3. Most importantly, support the music. Buy it. I am certainly not antidownloading, but the smaller artists need the support of their fans to survive.
Highlights of the show: Astronaut, Strength Through Music, Guitar Hero, Straight, Half Jack, Umbrella, Living On A Prayer, Leeds United
Sadly missed: Another Year, The Point Of It All, The Perfect Fit
Amanda’s blog and site can be found here.
The Builders and Butchers await you here
Love some Zoe Keating here
The Danger Ensemble can be supported here.
YouTube footage of this show can be found at my channel (username: turnoffthetv)
All previous posts about Amanda Palmer and her work in this blog can be accessed by clicking the Amanda Palmer tag.
SETLIST: Amanda Palmer @ The Mod Club, Toronto 11/30/08
I Want You But I Don’t Need You (Momus cover)
Strength Through Music
Runs In The Family
Have To Drive
Umbrella (Rihanna ‘cover’)
Living On A Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
Creep (Radiohead cover)